How To Handle Dining Hall Anxiety (Stop Fearing Eating Alone In College!)

Anxiety around dining alone at college campus

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College is a fresh start for most of us.

If you’re miles away from home, and a bit shy, it can be tough to find new friends.

There may be days when you have to face the dining hall alone and deal with anxiety.

Many college students avoid this situation by skipping meals or eating in their dorms, but this isn’t good for them in the long run. 

It’s good that you wish to make a change and challenge your anxiety.

This takes real courage and is the first step in overcoming dining hall anxiety.

Pat yourself on the back! Here are some tips to help you manage and eventually overcome your dining hall anxiety and once you’re through with them, you can pass this on to fellow freshmen or transfers who can equally benefit from these tips. 

Note: if you feel your social anxiety is greatly impacting your life, consider BetterHelp. BetterHelp is a convenient and affordable way to get professional counseling. I can’t say enoogh good things about them, just check out their reviews!

Eating Alone in College

Start Slowly

Gorgeous dining hall at a college campus

While avoidance isn’t the key to overcoming anxiety, throwing yourself off into the deep end isn’t going to do you much good.

So, start slowly. In other words, if you find yourself eating in your dorm room, or even worse, a bathroom stall, try to go to the dining hall at least once a week.

You can make this day a scheduled day, and say to yourself, “Wednesdays are dining hall days.” 

You can pick a random day, or choose one for a specific reason, for instance, if they serve a special meal on a specific day, or if a certain day isn’t that crowded.

Once your brain realizes that it isn’t so bad, you can progress to two days, then three.

Before you know it, you’ll be going to the dining hall multiple days in the week if you so desire! 

Consume ‘Easy Foods’

Froyo is an easy food to eat (and fun!)

Anxiety and eating aren’t the best pair.

You may notice it may become hard to swallow, or your hand starts shaking when you attempt to use your utensils.

Make it a bit easier for yourself by choosing to eat easy foods.

Easy foods are those that don’t require a lot of chewing, taste great, and sometimes have the advantage of promoting calmness. 

For example, yogurt is a great snack choice because it’s sweet and all you have to do is put it in your mouth and swallow!

On the other hand, crackers or popcorn are dry and easy to choke on.

Easy foods will reduce your chances of fumbling with utensils and give you a much-required confidence boost as you try to combat dining hall anxiety. 

Try To Find A Seat Near To A Window 

Girl eating lunch sitting near a window

A common symptom of anxiety is sweating, and it can cause great discomfort.

Sitting next to a window, or underneath a fan will help to keep you cool and will calm you down.

Plus, if the dining room gets too much for you, you can always stare through the window to get away from it all.

It will also help to relieve symptoms of choking or chest tightening.

If all the window seats are occupied, sitting by the door can be comforting if you need to make a quick escape! 

Avoid Caffeine

Avoid caffeine to reduce your anxiety and stress

Every college student knows what it’s like to have to pull an all-nighter and have to recharge for a long day ahead.

This usually comes in the form of caffeinated beverages like energy drinks, coffees, and teas.

Though helpful in restoring energy for a short period, they become a recipe for disaster for students prone to anxiety attacks.

Avoid caffeinated foods and beverages before entering the dining hall to prevent exacerbating any symptoms you may experience. Instead, keep yourself hydrated with water or natural juices. 

Bring Your Earphones

Student with his headphones on a college campus

Your earphones should be with you at all times.

They are a great tool for blocking out the outside world and can help to keep your mind from overthinking.

You can listen to some music while you’re sitting alone in the dining hall, or watch a movie while you enjoy your meal.

You’ll notice that the time will pass quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be done eating! 

Pause And Breathe

Take a moment and breath to calm your mind and handle stress

One of the best ways to cope with an anxiety attack is to control your breathing.

If you feel it coming on, simply pause eating, put down your food, and practice some breathing exercises.

It doesn’t have to be obvious, simply try to slow your breathing by taking deep breaths in and out until you feel ready to resume eating.

You may have to do this a couple of times, but as long as you get through it, then that’s all that matters.

Understand And Respect Your Limits

A dining hall at a college campus with students picking food

While the ultimate goal is to not feel anxious at all in the dining hall, you have to understand that this is not an overnight process.

You aren’t going to be anxiety-free after one attempt, and you should understand when to give it a rest.

If you feel too overwhelmed it’s okay to pack up your food and walk away.

Respect your limits and feel proud that you made an attempt, then promise yourself to keep trying. 

See The School Counselor 

A school counselor can offer a lot of help when dealing with fears of eating alone

You’d be surprised to find out how many fellow students are going through the same thing you are.

A visit to your school counselor can help to put things into perspective and may equip you with additional coping techniques.

Your counselor may even suggest meeting with other students who are struggling to make friends, and perhaps encourage you to have lunch together.

This way, you can bounce off each other and find comfort among friends.

Who knows, maybe your experience can encourage another student to get out of the bathroom stalls!

Don’t Isolate

When our anxiety gets the best of us, it’s easy to want to isolate and hide from the world.

Why go to the dining hall when I can order food or make some microwaveable meals?

BUT, when you hide away from the world, you are reinforcing your fear and letting your anxiety win.

The more often you face your anxiety and show yourself that IT’S OKAY to go to the dining hall and eat alone, the easier it will be.

Remember, you aren’t alone. So many people have been in your shoes and get anxious about dining alone. But the more you do anything, the easier it becomes.

Consider A Therapist

Consider seeing a therapist to manage your dining hall anxiety

Anxiety is the most normal thing in the world. Everyone gets anxious at times.

However, if it is affecting your life significantly in a negative way, it may be time to seek outside help.

A therapist (and possibly prescription anxiety medication) can be a godsend.

Don’t be ashamed for having to take meds or going to therapy.

You don’t have to have crippling anxiety to talk to a therapist. If you are reading this article, it’s likelybecause this is bothering you a lot.

If you feel like you can’t get a handle on it on your own, seek outside help.

Services like BetterHelp pair you with a licensed therapist who you can chat with as much or as little as you want.

You can even call and text them when needed.

I honestly wish I had found BetterHelp when I was a freshman in college. There was just SO much on my plate and my social anxiety was making everything a hundred times worse.

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